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Zuckerberg: We have a 'moral' obligation to connect India to the Internet

Facebook CEO says he wants to ensure India and other developing countries have total access.

Mark Zuckerberg is determined to expand Internet access in India, and the rest of the world for that matter.

The Facebook CEO repeated that ambition during a town hall meeting Wednesday at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. Zuckerberg told the audience of students and professionals that the social network's mission is to make the Internet accessible to the entire world, them included.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discusses the need for more Internet access in India during a town hall session in New Delhi.

Facebook

"If you really have a mission of connecting every person in the world, you can't do that without helping to connect everyone in India," he said. "We take that very seriously."

The hour-long question-and-answer session came during Zuckerberg's second trip in the past year to India, underscoring the country's importance to the tech giant. With 132 million Facebook users, India's user base is second only to the United States' 193 million monthly active users.

How far is Facebook willing to go to win over India's population? The social network this week launched an internal program that aims to give its workers a sense of the very slow Internet connections typically found in India and parts of Asia and Africa.

The Menlo Park, California-based company has been active in trying to spread free, basic Internet access to underserved parts of the globe. To emphasize the "free" aspect, Facebook in late September changed the name of Internet.org, its website offering free Internet services, to Free Basics. In the past year, the service has gone online to more than a billion people in 19 countries.

Critics have charged that the free service violates the concept of Net neutrality by favoring content from Facebook over other providers' content. During Wednesday's meeting in India, Zuckerberg was asked if he "100 percent" supports Net neutrality, the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally.

"Net neutrality is an important principle," he said. "We do a lot to support it, both in terms of pushing for regulation that kind of enables us and building an open platform that any developer can build something for, regardless of who they are, as long as they follow the rules [of Free Basics]."

Zuckerberg added there's a lot of debate about Net neutrality as India and other countries are trying to figuring out what they want their rules to be.

"It's important that we have regulations that prevent companies and people from doing things that are going to hurt people," he said.

There are also about a billion people in India without Internet access, and that needs to change, Zuckerberg added.

"The people who are not yet on the Internet can't sign an online petition pushing for increased access to the Internet," he said. "We all have a moral responsibility to look out for people who don't have the Internet, and make sure that the rules that benefit us, don't get twisted for people who don't have a voice."

This was Zuckerberg's second such town hall meeting discussing India and Internet access. He held a Q&A session with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the social network's headquarters last month.